Degradation of lipid peroxides leads to the formation of cytotoxic 2-alkenals and oxenes (collectively designated reactive carbonyls). The novel NADPH-dependent oxidoreductase 2-alkenal reductase (AER; EC 188.8.131.52) from Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana), which is encoded by the gene At5g16970, catalyzes the reduction of the alpha,beta-unsaturated bond of reactive carbonyls, and hence is presumed to function in antioxidative defense in plants. Here we show that Arabidopsis AER (At-AER) has a broad substrate spectrum to biologically relevant reactive carbonyls. Besides 2-alkenals, the enzyme recognized as substrates the lipid peroxide-derived oxenes 9-oxo-octadeca-(10E),(12Z)-dienoic acid and 13-oxo-octadeca-(9E),(11Z)-dienoic acid, as well as the potent genotoxin 4-oxo-(2E)-nonenal, altogether suggesting AER has a key role in the detoxification of reactive carbonyls. To validate this conclusion by in vivo studies, transgenic tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) plants that had 100- to 250-fold higher AER activity levels than control plants were generated. The engineered plants exhibited significantly less damage from either (1) the exogenously administered 4-hydroxy-(2E)-nonenal, (2) treatment with methyl viologen plus light, or (3) intense light. We further show that the At-AER protein fused with the Aequorea victoria green fluorescent protein localizes in cytosol and the nucleus in Bright-Yellow 2 cells. These results indicate that reactive carbonyls mediate photooxidative injury in leaf cells, and At-AER in the cytosol protects the cells by reducing the alpha,beta-unsaturated bond of the photoproduced reactive carbonyls.